Prayer as hard work.

I need your help to think something through. I’ve been working on it for a week.

I was looking at the end of Colossians. Paul mentions several individuals. One, Epaphras, was from Colosse. He had been part of starting the church. He had been the primary teacher. At the time Paul is writing, Epaphras is with him. Paul wants to make the personal connection. So he writes,

Epaphras, who is one of you and a servant of Christ Jesus, sends greetings. He is always wrestling in prayer for you, that you may stand firm in all the will of God, mature and fully assured. I vouch for him that he is working hard for you and for those at Laodicea and Hierapolis.

Paul says that Epaphras is “working hard for you” and for the people in a couple nearby towns. So what was he doing? He wasn’t connecting to them remotely. He wasn’t likely on some trade mission. This wasn’t a diplomatic mission where Epaphras would have been working on a treaty.

The best I can see from this text is that the “wrestling in prayer” that Epaphras was doing was somehow “working hard” for them.

I’ve written a lot here about the conversational nature of prayer. We’re talking with God in the same way that we talk with our spouse or a close friend or a parent. In fact, each of those is an image God uses to describe the relationship between us. But where would working hard come in? Trying to talk God into something?

Or is this a glimpse of a whole deeper dimension to conversation with God? I mean, when I speak sound appears. When God speaks stuff appears. Apparently, there is something about words and interaction I haven’t mastered.

Apparently Epaphras was working on it.

15 thoughts on “Prayer as hard work.

  1. joseph ruiz

    Jon, love your observation – “When I speak sound appears when God speaks stuff appears” Really thought provoking – for me prayer for others is hard work – so much of my prayer is about me, what I need how can i grow what is God’s will and on it goes – And that’s when I am even aware enough to pray so add practicing his presence to the challenge. There is so much here to ponder. Thanks for asking.
    Grace and Peace

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  2. Joll

    You know I’ve always “believed” in payer, but this spring when God told me to set aside all my distractions and pray, I was frustrated…pretty sure I could DO other things and still pray. nope, He meant stop the other doing and pray…for my family, for my friends, for people I don’t even know. When I’m pretty sure He is done with this “phase” I am reminded that what He wants is for this to be a lifestyle…sigh. Sometimes I think…there isn’t time for all this praying!! It’s like a full time job!

    Enter Epaphras

    Someday maybe I will get it right, but until then, God uses my small failures at the doing to redirect me to prayer…gonna do a blog post about this soon, I’ve just been talking about it witha blogging friend…thanks for the help in thought formation..

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    1. Jon Swanson

      And I’m looking forward to the post. Since the interaction is the point of this. Dear sister Joll. 🙂

      Oh, and I am convicted by the phase vs lifestyle comment.

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  3. emilyinmaine

    I immediately thought of Eph6:12 – for we wrestle not against flesh and blood….

    Did a quick search and found ‘wrestle’ isn’t used all that much in the Bible (go figure).

    The other place it is used (in English in the translations I looked at) is Psalm 13:2 – a reference also to struggling against an(the) enemy in prayer.

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    1. Jon Swanson

      I worked on this more after I wrote the post. The same image of agonizing (which is the underlying word for the struggle) shows up earlier in the letter when Paul is talking about his own struggling for these people 1000 miles away. And there are elements of the wrestling in the story of Jacob/Israel wrestling with the angel/God.

      The Ephesians 6 passage is a perfect expansion of the idea, by the way. We think we are living in a material world as material girls (and boys). This story of Epaphras and the connection to the bigger picture of a spiritual world helps us understand that we are in something bigger (or deeper or with more layers).

      By the way, when Paul talks about this in 1:29, he talks about working hard with all *God’s* power. I work hard with all my power. That may explain a lot.

      Thanks Emily.

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  4. Daniel

    Hi Jon, In different versions of the Bible the word \”supplication\” is used along with the word pray. Supplication- asking for something earnestly and humbly, expands on prayer and helps me understand the word a bit better. ”Or is this a glimpse of a whole deeper dimension” is something to chew on – thanks!

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  5. Cheryl

    When I pray I often think I am on the very shallow end of prayer. I also fight to pray for people and things that are not directly related to me. I also look for every excuse to find something to do instead of praying. I can totally relate to “doing” being less work than “praying”. I think we are fighting against a force, both ourselves and Satan, in order to be still and pray. That might be where the term “prayer warriors” came. When I was unable to do anything but be still I was so frustrated until someone told me to pray. Then I felt like I was “doing” something. My neighbor sits in her wheel chair, confined to her house all day and prays. I somehow believe her prayers are much deeper than mine.

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  6. Andrew Bernhardt

    I think there’s a tie to Jacob wrestling with God in Genesis 32. Toward the end, he said “I will not let you go unless you bless me”. Just as Jacob persisted in his fight, so Epaphras persisted in prayer for the Colossians. He would not stop until he saw the answer he asked for.

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    1. Jon Swanson

      I wonder about this too, Andrew. Though I’m not sure whether the wrestling with God is against or alongside. But clearly, Epaphras-prayer is persistent. Thanks.

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